Wow! We had more than one hundred other friends and astrophotographers attend the first ever Lonely Speck Meetup in Trona Pinnacles, California on July 30th, 2016. It was a night of meeting many new friends from all over the world in one of the most spectacular places to see the night sky. I surprised Diana (and everyone else) by asking Diana to marry me. (She said “YES!”) Here’s a summary of the amazing night we had with so many of you at the 2016 Lonely Speck Meetup.
Creating the 2016 Lonely Speck Meetup
A few months ago, I made a short post on our facebook page to see if anyone would be traveling to Death Valley National Park. That weekend, we had planned to visit the park to witness the relatively rare “superbloom” that was occurring in the desert.
We had one response from a photographer I have personally followed for years: Rick Whitacre. Rick is an avid night photographer and I’ve chatted with him on occasion via social media and email. It’s always exciting to meet other people who share our passions when we travel.
We met Rick at Badwater and shot the early morning Milky Way from Devil’s Golf Course. More than just having the opportunity to shoot photos in an amazing place, it was it was a truly positive experience for us to share that experience with another astrophotographer. The small meeting with Rick spurred the idea of organizing a bigger public meetup for astrophotography enthusiasts. That’s how the idea for the 2016 Lonely Speck Astrophotography Meetup at Trona Pinnacles was born.
When we first posted about the idea to hold a public meetup in the desert, I didn’t really expect a whole lot of people to sign up.
“Maybe 20 if we’re lucky.” That’s what Diana and I thought we should expect in terms of turnout for the meetup.
Fast forward to a couple weeks before the meetup and nearly 200 people had responded. Many of my close friends signed up. Even more people that I have never met signed up. Many names I recognized and many more I did not. Many were people that frequented Lonely Speck or shared email conversations with me and others were friends of friends or just so happened to stumble across the blog. Some people flew in to Los Angeles from other states and even other countries to participate. It’s possible that one of those people that signed up for the meetup was you.
I think that even after we saw 200 responses to the meetup, we still didn’t really think that more than a handful of people would show up. When we actually arrived, on one of the hottest days that I’ve ever experienced (it was over 115F), we were absolutely floored by the large number of cars that were parked among the Pinnacles. There were well over one hundred people that showed up.
I’ve visited the Trona Pinnacles many times and I have only ever seen a small handful of other cars there, maybe one or two on a typical night. What a turnout!
As the sun started to set, we had everyone gather around for a sunset meet and greet. One of our attendees, @mephistopheles_of_los_angeles captured a 360 degree photograph of the group:
A photo posted by Lizzie McVeigh (@mephistopheles_of_los_angeles) on
There are over 100 people in that photograph, about 55 cars on the horizon (bottom right) and you can see the Trona Pinnacles on the horizon to the top left. There are also a bunch of attendees that didn’t make it into the photograph so we estimate the total attendance to be from about 130-150 people. We had visitors come from all over the USA and even other countries as far as the UK!
Opening the Meetup with a Surprise
As everyone gathered for the sunset meet and greet, I reviewed some rules and etiquette for the night. With the massive number of people that showed up, shooting astrophotos was surely going to be a challenge so I reminded everyone to help each other out and practice patience with one another.
On a typical night of shooting astrophotos, it’s usually rare to encounter another photographer. The meetup presented the antithesis of a typical astrophotography wilderness shoot so it I thought it really important that everyone work together and communicate with each other throughout the night. There’s nothing more frustrating than getting your shot ruined by someone else’s headlamp. For the meetup, I wanted everyone to take a really relaxed attitude about such problems and not put too much worry about getting the prefect shot they envisioned. I think making such an announcement really created a laid-back mood for the event.
After talking about the rules for the night, I thanked everyone for showing up to the event. It was amazing to see so much support from people around the world and for everyone to come together.
At this point I started getting super nervous for the surprise that I had pre-planned for the opening of the night: my proposal to my girlfriend Diana. Diana has been the world’s biggest supporter of me since before the Lonely Speck was created. She’s supported me with her love over the last 4 years and tonight was the night that I would ask her to marry me. She said “Yes!” Here’s a photo of the moment captured by Tyler Sichelski:
I was, of course, sneaky enough to get a few of the attendees (thanks Amando Ahumada) to record the meet and greet and the proposal. (Diana even unknowingly recorded her own proposal.) Check out the video of the whole meet & greet and proposal below (skip to 6:25 to get to the good part):
It was an amazing moment to share with so many of the people that have supported us and made our blogs, North to South and Lonely Speck, a success. Neither Diana or I anticipated the amazing adventures that we’d go on together when we decided to pursue a full-time lifestyle of travel, blogging and photography. We’ve learned so much together while building our blogs in to viable businesses all while exploring new parts of the world. I can’t wait to experience the rest of my life with such an amazing person and I’m glad that we have so many people like you supporting us along the way.
A Night of Friends and Astrophotography
After our surprise engagement party, I gave a few tips to the more inexperienced attendees before we all split off to photograph the night sky. The conditions for the night were perfect. While it remained over 90F for most of the night, it remained perfectly clear for the entire night. Early in the night, a huge group of photographers lined up near the closest bunch of pinnacles to make their first astrophotos of the night.
We were approached by one of our attendees, David Hunter, to have an engagement photo made. David had already pre-scouted a location for the shot he had in mind and graciously offered to be our photographer. Here’s the amazing shot that he made: (Thanks David!)
After David captured the photograph of Diana and me, we continued to wander around, meeting many of our old and new friends. It was an amazing experience to see so many other photographers work on their own compositions. We help out as many photographers as we could when they ran into trouble and we saw even more people helping out each other.
I loved seeing how many people were having fun. There was such a feeling of excitement in the air as photographer were making their first exposures. Looking back now at the results on the #lonelyspeckmeetup feed on instagram, I can truly understand why. There were some amazing photographs being made that night. Here are a couple of my personal favorites:
“Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.” – Guess the author??? _____________________________________________ Another shot at trona pinnacles during the lonely speck meetup. Twas some great fun ??______________________________________________ Shooting with: 100+ Astro photographers ? but I can name two of them @ewingnicholas @theianwoo #nightshooters #milkyway #starrynight #startrails #astrophotography #usaprimeshot #stargazing #hot_shotz #explorecreate #letsgosomewhere #exploremore #lifeofadventure #stayandwander #keepitwild #theoutbound #wanderlust #dream_image #exklusive_shot #beautifuldestinations #natgeospace #earthfocus #lifeisfun #canon #ig_escaype #lifeisfun #instagood #skylovers #lonelyspeckmeetup
A photo posted by Kevin Sueksdorf (@kevmophotos) on
@kevmophotos captured this great portrait of someone standing on top of one of the pinnacles. I love the sense of scale that he created in this composition. Check out the Instagram hashtag fee #lonelyspeckmeetup for a ton more amazing shots.
As the initial crowds started to disperse, we hiked up among the pinnacles to capture a few photographs of my own. Even with over one hundred other people about, it was still possible to find some quiet areas to photograph the galactic center.
There were numerous light sources moving around that night from everyone’s headlamps which certainly created a challenge for shooting but also often acted as a surprise light painting source. In the shot below, a departing car’s taillights lit up the pinnacles in a red-orange glow. It’s not what I expect from the shot but I like the result nonetheless.
@brummelphoto captured an amazing timelapse clip of the meetup that shows all of the action of the meetup. I think his video really communicates the tremendous amount of fun that everyone had during the night. There were light pollution sources abound from all the participants’ headlamps, laser pointers, tail lights, and flashlights but I don’t think anyone attending complained. If anything, all the little lights roaming around in the dark made for some more interesting photos that night.
I had a fun time at the #lonelyspeckmeetup a few days ago! I wanted to meet up with @tracyleephotos and @tyskiphoto but I got to Trona after dark, which made that much more difficult. Instead, I thought I’d document the event with a timelapse of everyone doing their thing. BIG thanks to @inorman for hosting, and thank you for all you’ve given to the community! Also, congrats on the engagement! . . . #tronapinnacles #lonelyspeck #milkyway #timelapse
Towards the end of our stay that night, Diana and I hiked up beyond the first set of pinnacles, and peered out to the far set of pinnacles. Standing high on the pinnacles, a hot wind whipped around the pinnacles at gusts up to 25 miles per hour, making it a bit difficult to keep the tripod steady. In the north facing photo below, the galaxy Andromeda hangs high above the tallest mound of pinnacles while the town of Trona glows amber on the horizon. In the foreground, numerous other photographers and vehicles can be spotted at random among the pinnacles.
Diana and I stayed until about 1am before retiring back to our hotel in Ridgecrest to prepare for the next day’s sold-out post-processing workshop. As we departed, there were still many cars that remained and bunches of photographers still shooting, many of whom remained there well into the morning.
The post-processing workshop the next day was also a huge success. We were sold out with 50 attendees and I reviewed all of my favorite methods of shooting and post-processing with everyone. If you did not manage to make get a ticket to the workshop, the entire 100 minute video lecture is now available on YouTube.
Conclusions and Next Year
The 2016 Lonely Speck Meetup was amazing. We’ve already been asked a bunch of times if we’ll do another and I think that the answer is immediately a resounding yes. I’m still not sure exactly where or when the next annual meetup will be but be sure to check on the Lonely Speck homepage for details on the 2017 Lonely Speck Meetup as they become available.
I hope that the 2016 meetup helped create many new friendships and inspired many more people to appreciate the beauty of the night sky. Lonely Speck is all about sharing experiences in astrophotography with the world. Diana and I have had so much fun sharing our astrophotography adventure with all of you through this blog and we’re so happy to have shared an actual night with you under the stars.
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Thanks so much for being a part of our astrophotography adventure.